Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


Leave a comment

Peaches and Tomatoes

We are getting good at this canning stuff. Since nature doesn’t acquiesce to my timelines, I got a bushel and a half of peaches and a bushel of tomatoes in the same weekend. That’s a lot of food to can. It was my preference to do the peaches one weekend and the tomatoes the following. However, the old curmudgeons told me upon picking up my peaches that canning tomatoes could arrive the following day.

Their canning tomatoes are only 10 bucks a half bushel, so I couldn’t really say no without kicking myself in the wallet. There’s no better price out there for fresh tomatoes. I’m a sucker for a good deal.

We had to act quickly. The peaches were ripe, and would devolve into moldy mess in a matter of a few days. The tomatoes, being canning tomatoes, had blemishes on them. Those blemishes can turn into a moldy mess too. We chose to can the peaches first, as just the weight of them in the half bushel baskets could cause bruises and hasten molding.

We canned several varities: bourbon peaches, vanilla peaches, tea infused peaches, spiced peaches, and bourbon spiced peaches. We learned from our mistakes last year. We put the spices directly in the jars last year. This had two effects. First, the flavors were inconsistent. One jar tasted like star anise while the next tasted like cardamom. Plus, the woody spices (the star anise and cinnamon) got an increasingly bitter taste to them the longer the peaches aged in the jar. Notable exception, vanilla only continued to taste better and better as it aged in the jars.

To correct for this problem, we infused the simple syrup with the woody spices, and placed the vanilla in the jars. Time will tell how well this new process will work out. Without question this should solve for the inconsistency in flavor. It’s hard telling how the peaches spiced in this way will age. I will tell you in 2015.

It took a nine hour marathon canning session to work through only two thirds of the peaches. We wearily gave up, partially because we ran out of jars and partially because we were dead on our feet. I got a very early start on Sunday. I was hoping to make our second day canning shorter than the prior. But given that we weren’t halfway through our produce, I wasn’t feeling terribly optimistic.

I started the day finishing the remaining half bushel of peaches. After digging through my jars, I was able to scrounge up enough of them to leave only enough peaches for a pie. By the time Ali arrived with more jars, I was processing the last of the peaches, praise be the gods of sticky simple syrup and having a closet full of mason jars.

Ali arrived around ten, and we started on the tomatoes. Our typical pattern is for Ali to blanch the produce and handle jar packing and processing while I skin and prep the fruit for the jars. Our roles got reversed somehow. There was a plausible reason for this at the time, but I don’t recall it. We packed all the tomatoes in boiling water with about a teaspoon of kosher salt, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a sprig each of fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano. We followed a similar process last year, and the resulting tomatoes were lovely in marinara or a tomato soup.

I don’t know how it happened. All I know is we were done processing those tomatoes by 2pm. There were four things that were a bit different about the tomatoes. The tomatoes didn’t require packing in simple syrups. We just had to have steady supply of boiling water, nor did they need to be sliced as the peaches did. All of the tomatoes were put in quart jars, while some of the peaches went it smaller jars. Finally, I was the packer/processor, while Ali was the produce peeler. I don’t know how anyone of those things contributed to us finishing so quickly, but I was grateful for it.

We learned some things. First, we noticed that a half bushel of produce will fill a case of quart jars. So, you can do some math around that and calculate how many smaller sized jars you might need. We also learned that my pot’s maximum jar capacity is 6 quart jars at a time. Finally, we learned that canning two and half bushels of produce in one weekend is too much. Finally, peach pie made with fresh fruit is amazing!!

Next up on the canning schedule? We might make some tomato paste this weekend. Plus, we will be canning pumpkin, apples, and perhaps cushaw this fall.

Half bushel of peaches.

Half bushel of peaches.

Bushel of tomatoes.

Bushel of tomatoes.

So many peaches. These are the peaches that were packed in tea.

So many peaches. These are the peaches that were packed in tea.

IPA and peaches? Always.

IPA and peaches? Always.


Leave a comment

Pie Crusts with Leaf Lard: Better than Rainbows and Unicorns

Peach Pie

Here’s me sealing off the upper crust of the peach pie.

Finished peach pie, before we devoured it.

Finished peach pie, before we devoured it.

Peach pie after we scarfed some pieces down.

Peach pie after we scarfed some pieces down.

I’ve been making pie crusts for more than a decade. They are tricky. I’ve heard my grandmothers say that pies haven’t been the same since cooking with lard fell out of fashion. Like the bratty young adults that most of us were in our early 20’s, I was dismissive of these statements. As a cook, I’ve come to notice that the things my grandmothers said about cooking were right on the mark. Given that they cooked for their enormous families for twenty plus years prior to the advent of boxed meals, they have accumulated lots of cooking and baking wisdom.

When my foodie friend said that she could get us leaf lard, I said, “YES YES YES YES.” I’ve got a recipe for pie crust with blend of butter and shortening that has given me the best balance of flaky and tender, but I’ve always been curious about pie crust with lard. The recipe that I’ve linked to is by far the best recipe for a butter/shortening crust. I’ve tried at least 10 or 15 recipes over the years. This one yields the most consistent, flaky, and tender crust.

The lard that we got was unprocessed. It looks like what it is, a giant hunk of fat. To render it we put it in a slow cooker overnight. Once rendered and cooled to room temperature, the lard looked very much like plain shortening. One of the reasons that leaf lard is prized for baking is because it’s the most neural fat on the pig. Back fat and other lard has a distinctly pork favor that doesn’t lend itself to sweet pastries. Leaf lard can be found around the kidneys of the pig. Leaf lard doesn’t really have much of a flavor aside from the rich mouth-feel that fat typically has. It’s also difficult to find. Small butcher shops are the best places to start your leaf lard search.

We decided to make one savory and one sweet pie. We settled on peach pie and chicken pot pie. We canned peaches this past summer, and we used some that we packed with cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, and star anise. We used Alton Brown’s recipe for pie crust with lard. We considered just using all lard, but we were thinking that we actually wanted a bit of butter flavor in the crust. We tried a new technique with the butter. We took the butter from the freezer and grated it into the flour as opposed to cutting it in. This seemed to make the crust more consistent, and it was a little easier to work with. I liked this method so much that I will probably use it from this point forward. There’s one other thing to note about that Alton Brown recipe. The fat to flour ratio was really high, higher than most other crust recipes.

Throughout my years of cooking from scratch, I have repeatedly noticed that home cooked foods almost always crush their store-bought counter-parts. This has consistently been true for fruit pies, so it shouldn’t have shocked me that the chicken pot pie was spectacular. We didn’t do anything fancy with it. It had the standard peas, carrots, celery, and onions. We roasted the chicken. Once fully cooked, we removed the chicken an put the veggies directly in the pan with the chicken drippings. Once the veggies were softened but not completely cooked, we mixed in flour. Then we added a bit of water followed by half and half. Nothing out of the ordinary. This pie was anything but ordinary. I loved the Banquet pot pies in college. I was broke most of the time; for ninety-nine cents I could have a hot filling meal. Our pot pie blew that Banquet pot pie out of the water.

The peach pie was divine. Our spiced peaches were perfect with the salty, crisp pie crust. The fact that we used our canned peached allowed us to perfectly control how much moisture was in the pie.

I need a whole paragraph to describe the crust. This crust was like a cross between typical pie crust and a French butter pastry. It was at once crisp, chewy, tender, and flaky. I didn’t know a crust could manage to be all of these things at once. I’ve managed flaky and tender crusts, but they’ve never been chewy. I’ve managed very crisp crusts, but they are rarely tender. I think it’s quite possible that this lard pie crust has ruined me for anything but lard pie crusts from this point forward. Grandma was right… again. Now, I just need to figure out how to get more lard.